Cruise doesn’t want to sell you an autonomous car, just rent you a seat in one, and the Cruise Origin is the self-driving electric vehicle it believes will coax drivers out from behind the steering wheel. Handiwork of Cruise, General Motors, and Honda, the Origin is no hopeful concept, the trio insists, but an actual production vehicle that will soon be plying the roads.
While GM and Honda may have made their fortunes on the idea of selling – or at least leasing – cars and trucks to individuals and companies, Cruise’s concept is very different. Origin will be owned by Cruise, and operated as a ride-hailing service. You’ll summon one of the pods via the Cruise app, available 24/7.
There are some strong financial arguments for that, Cruise argues. In San Francisco for example – where the company has been running a fleet of prototypes for several years now, covering almost a million miles collectively over the past twelve months alone – Cruise estimates that the average person could save $5,000 per year using Origin, rather than having their own car or using traditional ride-sharing services.
An all-electric pod purpose-built for carrying people
Cruise Origin looks big at first glance, but the company says it’s actually akin to a regularly-sized SUV. The difference, of course, is that regular SUVs have to accommodate all the traditional components that come with an internal combustion vehicle, and a human pilot. That means an engine, a place to store fuel, and physical controls like a wheel and pedals.
Origin has electric motors, pushed out to the edges of the vehicle, and batteries under the floor. With no user-facing controls whatsoever, it means the whole interior can be dedicated to seating. Two spacious benches, facing each other, but with no shortage of legroom in-between.
Each seat gets a bank of ports to charge their phone or other devices; two displays hanging from the roof show status messages, give you a schedule of pick-ups and drop-offs, and remind you to buckle up. Cruise opted for sliding doors rather than hinged, not just because they look cool but because they won’t swing out and inadvertently smack cyclists off their bikes.
Displays on the outside corners can show a number, making it easier to identify which Origin is yours after you order it. The bodywork is modular, so it can be easily repaired if it gets scuffed or should another vehicle crash into it. Indeed modularity plays a big part in the vehicle as a whole, for the redundant powertrain, sensor, and compute suites, which also allow Cruise to progressively update its fleet rather than having to scrap older generations as the technology improves.
Cruise software with GM and Honda engineering
In this first-generation, Origin uses a number of homegrown sensors. Most striking are the two standing up on the upper front corners of the pod, like flat-faced owls. Each can rapidly rotate, to keep different potential obstacles or other challenges – like pedestrians or cyclists – in view. They can see in pitch-black, too.
More sensors stud the glossy black bodywork around the car, pushing up into the orange roof panel. They’re not invisible, certainly, but neither are they as goofy as the spinning LIDAR sensors we’ve seen on top of many autonomous vehicle prototypes.
Those traditional sensors typically contribute to the sky-high price of actually building an autonomous car. Cruise, though, is counting on things like owner General Motor’s economies of scale to do the trick there. Indeed, it suggests that for the cost of a typical electric SUV – it flashed up a picture of a Tesla Model X by comparison – you could have two Origin.
The self-driving pod should last longer, too. Cruise says it’s expecting over a one million mile lifespan, though of course since Origin can be trundling around cities 24/7 – except when it’s recharging – it should crunch through those miles a lot faster than traditional vehicles. They’re often only getting utilized 5-percent of the time.
Plenty of promises, plenty of questions
Cruise is excited, just like lots of companies promising autonomous cars are excited. Certainly there’s a lot of appeal in what Origin represents. Calling up a car and not having to make awkward conversation with an Uber or Lyft driver; and not having to worry about them being a safe driver or knowing your route.
At the same time, there are plenty of lingering questions, too. Cruise says it wants to make Origin affordable, but it’s unclear how much rides in the autonomous EV might actually cost. Range, charging infrastructure, how the pods will be maintained, and where they’ll live when that’s all happening is also to be confirmed.
Most importantly, Cruise isn’t saying when, exactly, it expects to launch its ride-hailing service. Origin, it insists, is real, and there’ll be an announcement soon about where it’s being built, but they’re all details for further down the line. So, too, are the teasing suggestions of a cargo version, which would swap passenger space for boxes.
The other lingering question is whether, even as a shared service, individual driverless pods like Origin are truly the answer to urban congestion. Look past the glossy plastic and studded sensors, and it’s not hard to see Origin as a little bus. There’s a lingering – and not unfair – sense that many people, and Silicon Valley in particular, are still set on reinventing the wheel, when their billions in investment might be better spent on upgrading public transit infrastructure that has long gone neglected by cash-strapped cities.
It’s unclear whether even the fanciest bus or train would compel dedicated car-owners to give up their keys. Perhaps, then, Cruise’s Origin is a way to at least loosen their grip on them. The oddball pod will need to get wheels on the asphalt before we know just how likely that really is.
Lunaz adds classic Bentleys to its lineup of electrified British cars
British electric-conversion specialist Lunaz adds classic Bentleys to its lineup after dabbling with electric versions of vintage Rolls-Royces, Jaguars, and Range Rovers. Lunaz claims its 1962 Bentley S2 Continental Flying Spur is the “definitive Gran Turismo” and is the world’s first electric classic Bentley.
It starts with factory original and coach-built bodies of a Bentley Continental S1, S2, or S3 manufactured from 1955 to 1965, in a coupe and four-door Flying Spur body style. Visually, Lunaz has retained all the classic lines and creases of the original body, hammered and carved to perfection by Mulliner Park Ward. The only visual mod is the paint, custom-chosen by the buyer, of course.
Underneath that gorgeous body, though, is a different story. All the vintage bits and pieces are giving way to modern components. You won’t find a 6.2-liter V8 Bentley engine under the hood, and all the suspension and brake parts are new. Lunaz failed to discuss the powertrain specifics, but we’re assuming the Bentley will carry the same electric drivetrain as the firm’s very own electric Rolls-Royce Phantom V and Silver Cloud.
Powering the electric motors is a 120 kWh battery pack with enough energy to cover 300 miles of range. It also has modest oomph to push the Bentley from zero to 60 mph in under five seconds, not bad for an unassertive vintage British car.
Meanwhile, the interior is as British as a cup of tea. All the leather and walnut trim are there, with each piece carefully hand-restored to match the original. Lunaz also gave its classic Bentley a new retro-style infotainment screen and climate control system. Also, electric power steering is now standard.
After building its first customer car, Lunaz is now accepting orders for its limited run of electrified S1, S2, and S3 Bentley Continental variants. And as expected, the sub-$500k (£350,000) base price is sure to leave a gaping hole in your bank account. Nobody said a vintage electric Bentley would come cheap, right? Also, the build slots are ‘extremely limited,’ so better act quickly.
Lunaz Bentley Continental Gallery
Ample promises faster electric vehicle charging with modular battery swapping
A company called Ample has announced a new system it believes will bring faster and cheaper energy delivered to electric vehicles. The system Ample has developed can be rolled out across an entire city in only a few weeks. The system uses Modular Battery Swapping to deliver a 100 percent charge to an EV in less than 10 minutes.
The Ample system would work with any electric vehicle. Three times faster would mean dramatically shorter charging times and less cost to install the EV infrastructure. The company claims that the system is designed for rapid deployment and could equip an entire metropolitan area with the charging network in a matter of weeks with energy costs as cheap as gasoline.
The Ample system can also capture wind and solar power when available. One of the biggest reasons vehicle shoppers don’t go for electric vehicles is long charge times and poor electric charging infrastructure availability. Ample technology relies on two major components to address that issue.
The first major component is that Ample is a fully-autonomous swapping station that removes depleted battery modules from the car and replaces them with completely charged ones. The depleted battery packs are placed on shelves where they are recharged. The second major component is a modular battery architecture allowing any EV to use Ample stations.
Ample modules are described as Lego-like and can accommodate vehicles of any size or model. Charging stations require no construction and can be assembled wherever two parking spots are available, making them convenient for locations like grocery stores, gas stations, or rest stops along the highway. Large fleets of electric vehicles will be the first to use the Ample system, and deployments are underway in the Bay Area right now. Ample also says it’s currently working with a number of the largest automakers in the world for mass deployment in the US, Europe, and Asia.
This SWAE McLaren 720S is a cacophony of 3D-printed carbon-fiber goodness
The McLaren 720S is an otherworldly supercar, but American tuning firm SWAE has something doubly desirable. Just a stone’s throw away from Glacier National Park in Montana is SWAE, a relative newcomer in the aftermarket tuning business. If you’re a newbie and you want to generate noise, creating a custom McLaren 720S with 3D-printed widebody panels is not a bad idea.
“SWAE operates in a space beyond luxury – enhancing each caliber of craftsmanship to create a sum greater than its parts,” explains SWAE Co-Founder Trevon Hermosillo. “Through new experiences and vehicles for innovation, we plan to test the limits of our potential.”
Right off the bat, SWAE isn’t going for subtlety with its widebody McLaren 720S. However, the execution is hardcore yet classy, befitting of a McLaren 720 S. Executive editor Chris Davies took the 720S coupe for a spin in 2018, and he had the kindest words for McLaren’s supercar. “The 720S will disarm you with its comfortable cabin and precision engineering. Get beneath the surface, though, and the 720S can be every bit as violent, raw, and downright disrespectful as you’d hope a supercar could be,” said Davies.
It’s hard to improve upon a proven recipe, but SWAE’s passion for 3D printing is the new ingredient in McLaren’s broth. The car has a bespoke 3D-printed widebody kit using premium twill carbon-fiber. The widebody look is not as outrageous as you’d expect. Still, the wider chin, bigger air inlets, gorgeous 10-spoke wheels, and massive rear spoiler (with 3D-printed titanium wing supports) are telltale signs of the immense power lying underneath.
The details are scarce, but SWAE said its “exclusive performance tune” takes McLaren’s twin-turbocharged V8 engine to dizzying heights. The tuner claims the engine is now pumping out more than 900 horsepower to the rear wheels. Measured in the crankshaft, SWAE’s McLaren 720S is breaching 1,000 horsepower. Unbelievable.
This astonishing SWAE McLaren 720 S Widebody proof-of-concept recently debuted in Miami. Expectedly, the car on this page is not for sale, but you can order your very own widebody 720S from SWAE to the tune of $500,000 – presumably inclusive of a McLaren 720S.
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